1.1L gave up Indian citizenship in 9 months

The number of Indians who became foreign citizens in just nine months between January and September 2021 is 25 times that of foreigners becoming Indian citizens in five years.

Separate data from the ministry of external affairs and ministry of home affairs show that while more than 1. 1 lakh Indians renounced their citizenship in favour of another country’s in the first nine months of 2021, India granted citizenships to 4,177 foreigners in the five years between January 2016 and December 2020.

Another 10,635 applications seeking Indian citizenship are pending with the MHA as of December12, 2021. And, even if all these are granted citizenship — unlikely going by the number of applications approved in each of the past five years — the number of foreigners who become Indians would only be 14,815.

Comparatively, MEA data shows nearly 6. 1 lakh Indians became foreign citizens between 2017 and 2021, and it is more than 8 lakh if 2016 figures are included.

Vikram Shroff, leader, HR Law at Nishith Desai Associates, says: “. . . The number of Indians preferring citizenships of other countries, especially the developed ones, is expected to continue to happen as has been the trend. However, there are a few countries, including some smaller European and other countries outside of North America that are constantly making it easier for talented people to gain residency, which in turn makes it easy to obtain citizenship. ”

Another expert pointed out that given the large population that India has, resources and opportunities are bound to be scarce and people are bound to look outward. “. . . While countries like the US and the UK have some visa restrictions, many other countries are looking to attract good talent from across the world and Indian citizens see this as opportunities,” he added.

AFSPA extended in Nagaland

Days after itset up a committee to review the application of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Nagaland, and amid calls for its scrapping as the Manipur elections approach, the Centre has declared the entire state as a “disturbed area” under AFSPA for a further period of six months until June 30, 2022, in accordance with its security assessments.

Stating that the central government is of the opinion that the area comprising the whole of Nagaland “is in such a disturbed and dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary”, the Centre, through a gazette notification issued on Thursday, declared the whole state to be a ‘disturbed area’ for a period of six months with effect from December 30, 2021.

The Centre, through a gazette notification issued on Thursday, declared the whole state to be a ‘disturbed area’ for a period of six months. This is an extention of the ongoing AFSPA and does not bring any new areas under its jurisdiction.

The decision to continue the enforcement of AFSPA across the whole of Nagaland comes amid shrill demands to withdraw the Act from the state in view of the killing of over a dozen civilians in Mon district by 21 Para-Special Forces, allegedly due to “mistaken identity”.

SBI adopts new benchmark rate

State Bank of India has adopted a new benchmark in place of the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate, which has been used to price foreign currency loans for decades. The global benchmark will be discarded for new contracts from December 2021at the behest of international regulators because of its susceptibility to manipulation and the risks its overuse poses during a crisis.

In a statement SBI said that it has already started offering ARR (alternate reference rates) -based products to customers. The country’s largest bank has also started knowledge sharing sessions to increase awareness of the new product among corporate customers.

Under the Libor transition process, from January 1, all new transactions will be referenced to the new benchmark rates as directed by the RBI and global banking regulators.

23 projects worth ₹17k-cr unveiled in Uttarakhand

PM Narendra Modi addressed a rally in Haldwani and inaugurated 23 development projects worth Rs 17,500 crore for Uttarakhand. Road projects constituted around Rs 9,000 crore of this amount, with three different stretches of the Char Dham allweather road, which have been recently widened, inaugurated by the PM. During his speech, Modi emphasised on the importance of the development projects initiated by the central government in Uttarakhand, including the ambitious all-weather road project, which aims to connect the four Himalayan shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri through an almost 900-km road widening exercise estimated to cost over Rs 12,000 crore. Although environmentalists have red-flagged the project as being “devastating for the Himalayan ecology”, the Supreme Court earlier this month gave its nod to the road-widening, “in view of national security”, saying that the project will allow better access to the India-China border in Uttarakhand for the armed forces. Reiterating the significance of the project which had been launched by him in 2016, Modi said, “I have a special connection with the Himalayas and am well aware of the power of this soil. I am sure that massive infrastructure projects such as the Char Dham all-weather road, Rishikesh-Karanprayag rail line, hydroelectric projects and others, will make this decade glorious for Uttarakhand. ”

He slammed the former Congress-led central government for “being uninterested in development”.

Tiger poached in Maharashtra

There is no let-up in tiger deaths in Maharashtra. One more tiger was found poached in Aheri on Chaprala Allapalli Road on Thursday.

The incident came to the notice of villagers after a stray dog was found chewing on a tiger bone.

This is the third tiger death in the last five days in the state and 43rd this year. With this, Maharashtra has equalled the ignominious tally with neighbouring Madhya Pradesh.

Kishore Mankar, conservator of forests, Gadchiroli circle, confirmed that the carcass of an adult tigress was found buried in a nullah in Aheri forest range, ostensibly to destroy evidence. “As all four paws and skull of the animal are missing, it indicates poaching. It seems to be the handiwork of local poachers. The carcass was found in reserve forest compartment number 615,” said Mankar.


Niti Health Index 2019-20

Kerala has emerged as the top performer among larger states while Uttar Pradesh came in as the worst performer in the Niti Aayog’s State Health Index 2019-20.

The fourth round of the index, placed Tamil Nadu and Telangana as second and third best performers, respectively, on health parameters. Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra were the other two states in the top five respectively on the index.

Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar were the bottom four laggard states.

The report, however, added that Uttar Pradesh topped in terms of incremental performance by registering the highest incremental change from the base year (2018-19) to reference year (2019-20). “From the base year (2018-19) to the reference year (2019-20), Uttar Pradesh led in improving the performance of 33 out of 43 indicators and sub-indicators. On the other hand, Kerala showed improvement in only19 indicators, and additionally had three indicators in the category of fully achieved,” the Aayog said.

Despite good performance, even the best performing states have significant room for improvement as the highest observed overall index score was 82. 20 for Kerala which is some distance from the frontier (maximum potential score is100), it added.

Mizoram ranked at the top among smaller states and Nagaland came in at the bottom in 2019-20. Among Union Territories, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Chandigarh secured first and second ranks, respectively, in terms of overall performance.

The report has been brought out by Niti Aayog in collaboration with the ministry of health and family welfare and the World Bank.

The health index is a weighted composite index based on 24 indicators in three domains namely the health outcomes, governance and information; and key inputs and processes. Each domain is assigned weights based on its importance with the health outcomes carrying the highest weight.

The Aayog maintains the Health Index is a useful tool to measure and compare the overall performance and nudge the states and UTs to shift the focus from inputs and outputs to outcome.

“States are beginning to take cognizance of indices such as State Health Index and use them in their policymaking and resource allocation. This report is an example of both competitive and cooperative federalism,” Niti Aayog vice chairman Rajiv Kumar said.

SEC Approves Covovax, Corbevax, Molnupiravir

In a significant move, the Subject Expert Committee under India’s drug regulator recommended granting Emergency Use Authorisation to Serum Institute of India’s Covovax, Biological E’s Corbevax and antiviral Covid-19 pill molnupiravir, at a meeting held on Monday.

The recommendations have been sent to the Drug Controller General of India, which will soon decide on their approval. The new vaccines could possibly be used as booster shots in the days to come.

Commenting on the SEC nod to SII’s Covovax a person in the know said, “the experts were satisfied with the data presented to them.” Covovax is the Indian version of US drug manufacturer Novavax’s recombinant nanoparticle protein-based Covid-19 vaccine.

Novavax and SII have already received EUA for this vaccine in the Philippines. The World Health Organisation too recently granted Emergency Use Listing to Covovax, which brightened its chances of approval in India.

The other vaccine which was taken up for discussion was protein-based Corbevax, produced by Biological E Ltd. The company had been submitting rolling data from the clinical trial to the drug regulator. The Centre has already made an advance payment of Rs 1,500 crore to reserve 300 million doses of Corbevax.

The experts also evaluated granting EUA to antiviral Covid-19 pill molnupiravir.

Developed by MSD and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, the drug works by introducing errors into the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ genetic code, which prevents the virus from further replicating. Ridgeback is collaborating with Merck on developing molnupiravir. It is administered as four 200 milligram capsules taken orally every 12 hours for five days, for a total of 40 capsules. Molnupiravir is not authorised for use for longer than five consecutive days.

Last week, the USFDA issued EUA to molnupiravir for the treatment of mild-to-moderate coronavirus disease in adults who are at high risk for progression to severe Covid-19, including hospitalisation or death.

In India, Merck & Co. has signed voluntary licensing agreements with Cipla Ltd, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Emcure Pharmaceuticals Ltd, Hetero Labs Ltd and Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, for allowing the drug to be manufactured and marketed in India.

126 tigers dead in 2021

A total of 124 tiger deaths were recorded in 2021, the highest in a decade. Data sourced from the National Tiger Conservation Authority till December 29 this year revealed that 60 of the 124 big cats that died fell prey to poachers, accidents and man-animal conflict outside protected areas.

According to a 2018 census, India was home to 2,967 tigers. NTCA has maintained a record of tiger deaths publicly since 2012. TOI had reported in October that the toll in 2021 could be the highest in a decade as it had already hit 99 by September 30. The number in 2016 was almost as high, at 121. The figure this year has raised alarm, with experts calling for rigorous conservation efforts, especially in places such as forest reserves.

Statewise, Madhya Pradesh, with 526 tigers, had the highest loss at 41, followed by Maharashtra, which has 312 tigers, at 25, and Karnataka, which hosts 524 tigers, at 15. Uttar Pradesh, home to roughly 173 tigers, recorded nine deaths.

However, experts believe that the death toll could be higher. A senior official working with the UP forest department said, “These are the number of deaths that are actually reported. Many tigers die of natural causes inside the forest area and their deaths go unreported. . . the total number of tigers that India lost in 2021could be higher. ”

The official said that the need of the hour was to ensure better conservation plans to mitigate man-animal conflicts. He added that this could be done by ensuring a clear passage for the animal to migrate to other forests. “Tigers can cover hundreds of miles searching for their territory, provided they have clear corridors,” he said. Many experts believe that the situation is alarming as wildlife habitats are shrinking. They said humans exert enormous pressure around reserved forest areas, which in turn has led to blocked forest corridors at many places across the country.

When the tiger population overspills, it is unable to move to another habitat. Experts say the animals have been try- ing to adapt to the situation in their own ways. In UP, over two dozen tigers live in sugarcane fields or social forestry areas. This has increased challenges for people as well as the forest department.

Field director of the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Sanjay Pathak, said, “The tiger population (has) increased considerably, which is why the toll, too, is likely to increase as death is a natural phenomenon. ”

News mixed with views can be a dangerous cocktail : CJI Ramana

“Nothing can be more lethal to democracy than the deadly combination of confrontational polity and competitive journalism. Tragically, they feed on each other,’’ said Chief Justice of India N V Ramana on Wednesday. His audiences were journalists at the RedInk Awards for excellence in journalism by the Mumbai Press Club.

Speaking virtually as chief guest at the 10th anniversary of the Awards, CJI Ramana said, “A trend in reporting nowadays is the seeping of ideological stances and biases into the news story’’ with interpretation and opinions colouring what should be factual reports. “News mixed with views is a dangerous cocktail. Connected to this is the problem of partial reporting, of cherry-picking facts to give it a particular colour. ’’ “ History is witness to this hard truth,’’ he said.

The CJI said, “Allowing yourself to be co-opted by an ideology or the State is a recipe for disaster’’ before adding, “Journalists are like judges in one sense’’ and must do their duty uninfluenced by their beliefs.

What is gaining prominence recently, he said, is “the attention economy’’. “In the hope of grabbing eyeballs, the headlines that are given for news reports are The headline is often unreflective of the actual content of the reports. It is interpretative and imaginary. The headlines are then shared widely on social media, and become the news. The content is forgotten. ’’

Noting that press freedom is a sacrosanct Constitutional right, he said that it comes with “enormous responsibility’’. “The media and judiciary are together in the Mission Democracy and in promoting national interest,’’ said the CJI adding “recent trend to sermonise about judgments, and villainise judges, needs to be checked’’. “The media must have belief and trust in the judiciary. As a key stakeholder in democracy, the media has the duty to defend and protect the judiciary from motivated attacks by evil forces,’’ he said. “We have to sail together. ’’

Few would know that Justice Ramana was briefly a journalist, too.

Import curbs on 351 defence items

After two negative arms imports or “positive indigenisation” lists that progressively ban imports of 209 weapon systems, platforms and ammunition for the armed forces, the defence ministry has notified another such list for 351 sub-systems and components.

Issued by the Department of Defence Production as part of the effort to minimise imports by defence PSUs, the list contains 351 imported items that will be indigenised over the next three years as well as 2,500 items that have already been indigenised.

“This Aatmanirbhar (self-reliance) initiative will save foreign exchange approximately equivalent to Rs 3,000 crore every year. The identified sub-systems, assemblies and components will only be procured from Indian industry after the timelines indicated in the list,” an official said.

As per the notification, import restrictions on 172 sub-systems and components will come into force by December 2022, followed by another 89 by December 2023 and 90 by December 2024.

The list ranges from laser warning sensors, high-pressure check valves and beacon receivers to various types of antennas, cables, sockets and voltage control oscillators.

The first “positive indigenisation list” in August last year progressively banned imports of 101 items in the 2020-2025 timeframe in a bid to boost domestic defence production and exports. The second in May this year similarly identified 108 items for the December 2021-December 2025 time-frame.

The two lists identified only some fully-formed major weapon systems and platforms, ranging from missile destroyers, transport aircraft, light combat helicopters, wheeled armoured fighting vehicles and conventional diesel-electric submarines to next-generation corvettes, single-engine light helicopters and AEW&C (airborne early warning and control) systems.

The majority of them are already being produced domestically or are in the R&D or trials phase here.

Atal Rankings of Institutions on Innovation Achievements

IIT-Bombay ranked second in the country among Institutes of National ImportanceTechnical in the Atal Rankings of Institutions on Innovation Achievements, afterIITMadras. The 2021 rank list was declared by the ministry of education on Wednesday. Among deemed universities ,Institute of Chemical Technology and Savitribai Phule Pune University from the state figured in the top 10 ranks. College of Engineering Pune and VJTI, too, made it to the top five colleges in the country for innovation achievements.

The initiative is aimed at ranking all major higher educational institutions and universities in the country to support innovation and entrepreneurship development. ARIIA considers seven parameters to rank institutions, including activities to promote and support innovation and start-up on campuses, academic courses on innovation and patents, research output and technology transfers, among others.

IIT-Bombay secured second position for the third consecutive year in the rankings. Director of the institute , Prof Subhasis Chaudhuri, said, “IIT-Bombay puts a lot of emphasis in creating an ambience that is conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship efforts of our researchers. ” He added that they are happy with the recognition, but there is scope for further improving the ecosystem.

Prof Milind Atrey, Dean (research and development), said that the institute is committed to promote innovation and entrepreneurship efforts of researchers. He added that the institute is working on research in semiconductors, energy, electric batteries, hydrogen, and digital analytics in healthcare, and is looking at possible funding options in these areas. Atrey said that the industry needs to increasingly work with innovators for successful outcomes. Among the major contributions from the institute this year was an indigenous CAR-T cell technology for affordable cancer cure. The researchers used a combination of gene therapy and cell therapy to modify immune cells to attack and kill cancer cells.

ICT’s Dean (research and innovation), prof Padma Devarajan, said that the institute set up their incubation centre this January, and are currently mentoring two incubatees and one preincubatee. “On the administrative front, too, we have introduced an innovation and startup policy to create an opportunity for students and faculty members,” she said, adding that the institute recently bagged a funding of Rs 50 lakh to setup the tinkerers’ lab. ICT retained its position in top 10 ranks among the aided government and deemed universities, but slipped from rank one to sixth. SPPU made it to the top 10 for the first time in the same category.


E-vehicles in Maharashtra up

It’s boom time for electric vehicles in Mumbai and Maharashtra. While the state saw a phenomenal 153% rise in new e-vehicle registrations in the first nine months of the financial year 2021-2022, the city recorded a growth of 112% in the same period, the latest transport statistics show.

Compared to 9,415 e-vehicles registered in 2020-21, the number of registrations skyrocketed to 23,786 in just nine months of 2021-22 (April 1 to December 27 this year).The total e-vehicles registered so far in Maharashtra is 57,386 and there are indications that it will cross a lakh-mark in few months, officials said.

The growth in e-vehicles was also a good 112% in Mumbai, the statistics showed. From just 48 new e-vehicles registered in 2017-18, the numbers grew to 132 in 2018-19, 642 in 2019-20 and1,442 new registrations in 2020-21.

In the nine months of 2021-22, the registrations have more than doubled at 3,059 new e-cars /e-two wheelers. The total electric vehicles in Mumbai now stand at around 6,000. The registrations were maximum in the island city, with Tardeo registering 1920 e-cars/scooters so far.

Anand Surve, who recently purchased an e-scooter, says it's convenient to charge the battery. “I remove the battery from the two-wheeler and take it to my second floor residence in Ghatkopar where I charge it for a few hours late at night. The next day, I just put it back on the scooter and it gives me good mileage the entire day.” Also, fuel expense is around a rupee per km as compared to Rs 6-8 per km for diesel, sources said.

Among the new registrations were cars and SUVs with a high range of 300 km for a single (full) charge and this was adequate for intracity travel and also inter-city. Over a hundred housing societies in Mumbai now have e-charging points within the complex, with a concessional rate of Rs 5.50 per unit which is less than residential power charges.

Akshay Sawant, who owns an electric car, said there was a need for more government subsidies and the cost of ecars (and battery) was coming down. “The sales will go up only if prices of electric scooters or cars were at parity with diesel/petrol variants,” he suggested.

Transport expert Pranav Naik, “Our government needs to look at sustainability of this system by ensuring that electricity production is largely through sustainable sources and not coal, gas, and thermal as is the case now. They should also bolster public transport so more people travel in shared e-vehicles.”

City transport activist Gaurang Vora welcomed the growth of e-vehicles, saying there was visibility of escooters and e-cars with green number plates on the road. “Eco-friendly modes of fuel are the need of the hour. The government should facilitate more and more usage of e-vehicles by providing subsidies in its purchase. It will reduce pollution to a greater extent."

A government official said there were plans for 1500 new EV charging stations across the Mumbai region, with at least one public charging station in a 3kmx3 km grid. The state also plans 25% electrification of intra-city public transport and last mile delivery vehicles by 2025. Also, 10% of new vehicle registrations will be electric vehicles by 2025, he added.

The BEST, too, has procured close to 400 electric AC buses on wet lease this year.


₹175cr seized from UP perfumer trader’s home

Rs 175 crore and counting—that’s the amount of “unaccounted cash” seized from UP businessman Piyush Jain’s home in Kanpur during a search by a Directorate General of GST Intelligence team on Thursday and Friday and more hidden money is likely to tumble out as some of his properties in Kannauj are still being searched. Jain from Chhipatti in Kannauj is known primarily as a perfume merchant. He has around 40 companies, including two in West Asia, and owns a house, head office and showroom in Mumbai.

Officials said tax evasion of about Rs 3.09 crore through shell companies was discovered. “Jain took loans in the name of shell companies and has huge foreign transactions,” a source said. “Documents are being scrutinized. SBI officials are helping count the seized money.”

The search teams combed 11 premises of Jain and two of his partners—a pan masala manufacturer and a transporter—that included factory outlets, offices, cold storages, and petrol pumps in Kanpur, Mumbai, and Gujarat.

The three are accused of ferrying goods with fake invoices of bogus firms. These invoices were below Rs 50,000 for a truckload, without generating e-bills to avoid paying GST. Sources said 200 fake invoices were found and Rs 1.01 crore was seized from the transporter.

MiG-21 aircraft crashes near Jaisalmer hamlet, pilot killed

In yet another MiG-21 crash in the IAF, another pilot was killed after his fighter went down in Jaisalmer on Friday evening.

The MiG-21 crashed near Sudasiri village near the India-Pakistan border around 8.30 pm. Some eyewitnesses said the jet caught fire in the air and crashed with a major explosion, with the debris being spread over a one km area. The pilot, identified as Wing Commander Harshit Sinha, did not get a chance to eject from the plane. The IAF has ordered a court of inquiry to establish the exact reason behind the crash, said an official.

Five MiG-21s have crashed this year, with three pilots being killed in them. On March 17, a highly-experienced pilot, Group Captain Ashish Gupta, posted at IAF’s `Top-Gun’ school Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment at Gwalior, was killed when his MiG-21 crashed soon after taking off from the Gwalior airbase.

Another pilot, Squadron Leader Abhinav Choudhary (28), was killed when his MiG-21 `Bison’, which had taken off from the Suratgarh airbase in Rajasthan for a “routine night combat training sortie, crashed on May 20.

Delhi May Get Its 13th City Forest In January

The capital is expected to get a new city forest in northwest Delhi’s Mukhmelpur by January. A forest land that was occupied by cattle owners for the past few decades is being restored and developed into a green zone.

According to a forest official, the encroachments were removed in August last year and the waste was cleared to develop the area into a city forest. “The forest has been created by reclaiming the land from encroachers. For years, waste was being dumped here. A majority of the work is now complete and it is expected to be thrown open to the public in January 2022,” an official said.

Spread over 3.86 acres, the city forest will include a butterfly garden, a waterbody, sitting huts, information boards to identify trees and medicinal herbs and a grass bank for people to sit. Though native trees, including peepal, jamun, neem and jacranda, are mostly present here, the city forest will have shrubs and smaller plants too.

Explaining the importance of a city forest, Vipul Pandey, deputy conservator of forests (north division), said: “The forest acts as a green lung for the city and helps create awareness about the green cover. It also serves as an habitat improvement for birds and butterflies. The waterbody, which has been developed inside the city forest, will help in groundwater recharge.”

Delhi already has 12 city forests while four others were announced at Marmurpur in Narela, Ayanagar, Jaunapur and Deramandi. “The work on developing the four city forests is under way. Apart from natural forests, such initiatives in urban areas are important for the ecosystem’s restoration. It helps in the revival of flaura and fauna,” another official added.

A forest official said the green cover of Delhi had been witnessing a steady growth in the last one decade. It currently stands at 21.9% (324.4 sq m), while it was 20.6% (308.4 sq m) in 2017, 20.2% (299.9 sq m) in 2015 and 20% (297.8 sq m) in 2013.


Metro corridor to link Gurgaon and Faridabad finalised : Khattar

The Haryana government has finalized the 32.14 km long route of the Metro connecting Gurgaon to Faridabad. There will be 12 stations on this much awaited route, linking the people of these two important cities of the state. Once detailed project report is finalized, the same would be sent to the Union ministry of housing and urban affairs for final approval.

A formal statement in this regard was made by the Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar before the state assembly during the winter session on Wednesday.

The chief minister also informed that the route of the Metro for connecting Faridabad and Gurugarm is from Bata Chowk Faridabad to Vatika Chowk Gurugram with total length of 32.14 km consisting of 12 stations.

These stations are Bata Chowk, Pyali Chowk, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Marg, Badhal Enclave, Pali Chowk, Police Chowki Manger, Gwal Pahari, Sector-56, Sushant Lok, Sushant Lok-3, Rosewood city and Vatika Chowk.

The chief minister also stated that the final DPR of the project is under preparation and as and when the DPR is finalized, the same will be placed before the council of ministers, Haryana. “After the approval of the government, the DPR will be forwarded to the ministry of housing and urban affairs, Government of India, for approval,” said the chief minister.

The chief minister, however, made it clear that the exact time lines for start and completion of this metro project cannot be given at this stage.

The chief minister was responding to a question asked by the Congress MLA from NIT Faridabad, Neeraj Sharma. The MLA had asked whether the route of Metro connecting Faridabad to Gurugram has been finalized by the government and the timeline by which the work of connecting these two cities with Metro is likely to be started.

The project was announced by chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar in 2016. After several delays, the DPR was completed this March. The DPR has now been placed before the public undertaking committee of the Haryana assembly.

Announced in 2016 by Khattar, the proposed linking of Faridabad to Gurugram through Metro would reduce the vehicular traffic between the two cities. In absence of a public transport system on this route, a large number of people travel every day in personal vehicles for work.

Ludhiana Blast

A powerful explosion inside a public toilet in the main building of the district court complex in Punjab’s Ludhiana on Thursday killed an unidentified man and injured six others, including a lawyer. The possibility of the deceased being the perpetrator of the blast couldn’t be ruled out yet, police said.

CM Charanjit Singh Channi termed the 12.30pm blast “a bogey of terror” ahead of the assembly polls and instituted a high-level inquiry. State Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu linked it to “an attempt to scare a particular community for polarisation of votes”. The explosion, which occurred on the second floor of building no. 1, damaged the walls and the roof of the toilet, and shattered windows across the structure. Several parked cars were damaged by falling debris.

There were two women near a photocopier, and both were flung in the air when the blast occurred. My friend Kuldeep Singh Mand, who was there, fell down and was covered in debris. We pulled him out and ran as we feared the explosion could be the first of a series of blasts,” advocate Harjot Singh Harikay said.

But for a lawyers’ strike on Thursday that kept many people away, the toll and the number of injured people might have been higher. District bar association president Gurkirpal Singh Gill said the advocates were on strike to protest the transfer of Ludhiana’s 800 consumer forum cases to Nawanshahr and Kapurthala districts. JMIC Shweta Dass, whose court is close to the site of the blast, was on leave for the first half of the day, which ensured there were fewer people around Ludhiana police commissioner Gurpreet Singh Bhullar said investigators had found “vital clues” and hoped to crack the case soon. Bomb disposal squads combed through the court complex after the blast while police teams scanned CCTV footage to try and tie up the loose ends.

Police were tightlipped about how the explosives were detonated. Sources said high-intensity explosives might have been used. A National Security Guard team reached Ludhiana by evening to examine the blast site for forensic evidence along with experts from the state police, Bhullar said.

“The Punjab government will soon give a befitting reply to such anti-social forces out to traumatise people ahead of assembly elections,” CM Channi said after visiting the injured, three of them women. Sidhu also met the injured in hospital. “There isn’t a shadow of a doubt that a series of peace-disrupting activities has been planned by those with vested interests to create a law and order problem in Punjab,” he said later.

The Union home ministry sought a report from the Punjab government on the blast. Home minister Amit Shah spoke to CM Channi for an update. The Union home secretary, too, briefed him after getting some details. The FIR, filed by ASI Sukhpal Singh, states that “anti-national elements triggered the explosion to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere in Punjab”.

RBI Flags Fresh Worries on Stablecoins

The Reserve Bank of India has raised fresh concerns over stablecoins and said that any crypto asset pegged to the US dollar or any other global currency could undermine the Indian rupee.

Central bank officials have raised these concerns with the government in several meetings held recently, people aware of the development said. Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies where value is derived from an underlying asset — USD or gold in most cases.

The fear is that going ahead, companies or traders could move to stablecoins even for domestic payments. The RBI has said that if stablecoins are allowed in India, they could even affect the central bank’s ability to control the currency fluctuations and volatility.

India has still not decided whether it wants to regulate or completely ban cryptocurrencies. A questionnaire sent to RBI Wednesday did not elicit any response.

The RBI has said that many exchanges are already doling out anywhere between 10% and 12% interest rates on stablecoin deposits similar to fixed deposits.

Industry trackers say that the RBI’s concerns may not be farfetched. “Currently, regulations do not allow anyone to accept USD or any other foreign currency as mode of payment for domestic transactions — whether trade or salaries. The risk that stablecoin could pose is that it could be used as a mode of payment, partial or full, and the RBI will not have any control over this,” said Amit Maheshwari, tax partner at tax consulting firm AKM Global.

Globally, regulators have been struggling to formulate policies around stablecoins because the currencies do fluctuate much more than the paired currency due to demand and supply situation on an exchange. The government is already discussing with stakeholders whether cryptocurrencies should be completely banned or whether they should be allowed in a limited way where the Reserve Bank of India will primarily regulate them.

Several finance ministry officials, the RBI, tax departments and investigating agencies including the Financial Intelligence Unit have raised concerns about how in its current form cryptocurrencies are a “systemic risk” not just to the security but even the Indian economy.

Industry trackers say that even if India were to allow cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoins, stablecoins pose the biggest risk to any country’s financial stability.

“If Indians are able to buy stablecoins and even store them then that can impact the Indian rupee to a large extent. Worse, the RBI will not have any control over such cryptocurrency and to an extent will not have visibility over how it's used and by whom, unlike in the case of buying USD directly,” said Mihir Gandhi, partner and leader, payments transformation, PwC India.


Somewhere in Tamil Nadu....


Chennai-Mysuru high speed rail line on drawing board

Preparatory work for the 435km Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysuru high speed rail corridor project seems to be moving rapidly as the final contract to prepare a detailed project report has been awarded.

The firm will prepare drawings of alignment of the line at areas where it crosses rivers, canals, bridges, roads, railway lines, highways and other similar facilities and will also prepare a general drawing of the stations. Work on carrying out a complete mapping of the alignment is already on. The contract is the last of the seven needed to prepare a DPR.

If things go according to plan and the route is open, trains will travel at 300kmph-320kmph on standard gauge lines.

The travel time between the three cities will be reduced to just one and half hours. Currently, Shatabdi Express covers the distance in seven hours.

Two lines will have to be laid along a fenced corridor that will be 50 metres to 60 metres wide.

Though a final alignment map is being prepared, a separate contract has been awarded to a company to map only the terrain where the line has to cross rivers, smaller water bodies and other obstacles because the rules require that a thorough study be done including, in the case of rivers, up to two km on either side of the line.

As the speed is high, the terrain and its character around the line, stations and depots needs to be studied before the alignment can be fixed and stations can be designed, said a railways official. The National High-Speed Rail Corporation had already identified nine stations including Chennai, Poonamallee and Arakkonam in the state a year ago and early this year awarded contracts for final alignment design and for environment impact assessment and environment management plan.

The final alignment is being prepared using Li-DAR technology which helps in mapping the terrain including rivers and small water bodies in three to four months instead of almost a year because a helicopter fitted with sensors will be used to map the terrain. After the DPR and environment impact study is completed, the NHSRC will float tenders for civil work to start construction, said an official.

The National Rail Plan has fixed an approximate deadline of 2051 for the high speed line. The Chennai-Mysuru line is part of the six corridors including Mumbai-Ahmedabad and Delhi-Varanasi proposed.

Kashmir: Terrorists kill Srinagar civilian, Anantnag cop

Terrorists shot dead a man at Eidgah in the old quarters of Srinagar and an assistant sub-inspector of police near the district hospital at Bijbehara in southern Kashmir’s Anantnag district within 30 minutes of each other on Wednesday evening.

A police officer said Rouf Ahmad Khan, 45, was seriously injured in the shooting at Eidgah. He died in hospital. Minutes after the attack, terrorists shot ASI Muhammad Ashraf from Awantipora at Bijbehara. He took four bullets in his neck and chest, and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.

On Tuesday evening, terrorists targeted security forces guarding a check-post at Soura in Srinagar. They escaped, but one of them was injured in counter-fire.

Chinese mobile firms under I-T department’s radar

With the Income Tax department conducting searches at several premises of Chinese mobile companies across the nation, smartphone brand OPPO said it will continue to cooperate with authorities as per procedure.

According to sources, the smartphone companies were allegedly violating rules and norms to evade taxes and were on the radar of several probe agencies, including the I-T department. In a statement, OPPO said that as an invested partner in India, “We highly respect and abide by the law of the land”.

“We will continue to fully cooperate with authorities concerned as per procedure,” the company added.

Earlier, some Chinese firms which were allegedly running mobile loan application and transport business, were raided by the agencies.. According to sources, several teams were formed by the I-T department to conduct searches which started around 9 am on Wednesday, and were likely to continue till late in the day.

Reliable sources said that in the case of Xiaomi, routine IT procedure was being carried on, and there was no I-T raid at its premises or its distributors’ places. According to an official, basically the manufacturing units were being raided along with a few corporate houses.

“Few teams also raided the godowns of the Chinese mobile companies. The officials have recovered incriminating documents,” said the source. The raids took place at the offices of state-distribution partners of OPPO, including in Hyderabad, the source added.

Somewhere in Srinagar....

Members of the Christian community sing hymns and offer special prayers inside the 125-year-old St Luke’s Church, which was reopened after more than 30 years, in Srinagar on Wednesday. One of the oldest churches in the Valley, it was closed after the eruption of militancy in Kashmir in the 1990s and reopened just ahead of Christmas.

The church was renovated by the J&K tourism department.

India tests its new surface-to-surface short-range missile : Pralay

India tested a new short-range ballistic missile called Pralay, with a strike range of 150 to 500 km, from the Abdul Kalam Island off the coast of Odisha.

The maiden test of the surface-to-surface missile, which can carry a payload of 1,000kg and is powered with a solid propellant rocket motor, met all objectives. “The new missile followed the desired quasi-ballistic trajectory and reached the designated target with high degree of accuracy...,” a DRDO official said. “All the sub-systems performed satisfactorily. All the sensors deployed near the impact point across the eastern coast, including the down range ships, tracked the missile trajectory and captured all the events.”

The guidance system of the missile, which can be launched from a mobile launcher, includes state-of-the-art navigation system and integrated avionics. Defence minister Rajnath Singh congratulated the fast track development and successful maiden launch of the modern Pralay missile.

Zee, Sony ink merger

After three months of comprehensive audit of each other’s financial books, Zee Entertainment Enterprises and Sony Pictures Networks India have signed a definitive merger agreement amid a knotty legal fight between the former’s founders and its largest shareholder, Invesco of the US.

With Zee’s founders holding a tad below 4% in the company, the support of Invesco, which owns nearly 18%, could be crucial as the merger requires the approval of 75% of the shareholders. The definitive agreement retains the terms of the preliminary merger proposal, first announced on September 22.

Though Invesco had welcomed the merger between Zee and Sony, it had said that it was against any such terms that unfairly rewards the former’s founders at the expense of other ordinary shareholders. According to the contours of the deal, Sony will pay a non-compete fee of Rs 1,100 crore to Zee’s founders, which they will use to acquire 2% in the merged entity. This will help them maintain their 4% shareholding, similar to what they held prior to the merger. Besides, the founders can raise their stake to 20% from 4% in the combined entity through open market purchases. The merger will dilute Invesco’s stake to 8%.

Invesco had requisitioned Zee to call a special shareholders’ meeting to remove CEO Punit Goenka, whose father founded the company in 1992, over alleged “corporate governance failures”.

But Zee got a judicial order against the Atlanta-based fund’s request. Invesco had challenged this and the matter is currently being heard in the Bombay high court.

According to the terms of the deal, Goenka will lead the combined entity, which will be India’s second-largest media and entertainment company with over $2-billion revenues. However, an adverse judicial order for Zee could throw a spanner in the works of the merger.

“We hope shareholders will see merit in the deal in totality. We will be approaching them, including Invesco, with the proposed transaction, in due course,” said Zee CEO Goenka. He also said that he hasn’t approached Invesco to resolve the feud yet. But he would be willing to engage with them. “Unfortunately, the matter has been sub-judice, so we consciously decided not to engage with Invesco.”

Besides the approval of shareholders, the merger is subject to regulatory and other third-party approvals. Zee and Sony expect the merger to be concluded in fiscal 2023. Sony will hold about 51% in the combined entity, which will be listed on the bourses.

“The merger will transform Zee into a subsidiary of Sony USA, an MNC. This would also enhance corporate governance practices,” said InGovern founder Shriram Subramanian. “Invesco would find it hard to vote against the merger as it would be counterproductive and put Zee back to the past.”


NSE Launches ‘Prime’

The National Stock Exchange launched ‘NSE Prime’ on Tuesday — a framework that allows listed companies to sign-up for higher governance standards than what is required under the law. They can sign up voluntarily for NSE Prime, which will require them to comply with higher governance standards.

It had been reported that NSE was looking to launch a voluntary compliance platform inline with Brazil’s ‘Novo Mercado’.

“Improved corporate governance standards, greater transparency and better disclosures will help companies build stronger and sustainable businesses that can stand the test of time,” said Vikram Limaye, ND, NSE in a release.

An NSE Prime company needs at least 40% public shareholding as against 25% under the Sebi rules. The chairperson has to be unrelated to the managing director. Board members of these companies cannot serve on the boards of more than five listed companies.

Commenting on the launch, Kotak Mahindra Bank managing director Uday Kotak said, “Corporate governance is the key to investor trust in corporations. Corporates need to be able to build their strategic guardrails along with transparency on how they operate.”

Kolkata Civic Polls: TMC wins 134 of 144 seats

Trinamool Congress strengthened its stranglehold on in the city, winning 134 of the 144 seats in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation elections with a 72% vote share that reflected the afterglow of its assembly poll landslide eight months ago.

In a first, KMC will now have 68 women councillors, 64 of them from Trinamool. This works out to 47% of the seats in the House. Kolkata’s next mayor will be decided at a councillors’ meeting on Thursday, Mamata Banerjee said after trends confirmed that Trinamool was on its way to the best showing by any party in a KMC poll in recent memory.

“Kolkata is our pride. Kolkata will lead the nation to glory. We will serve with more humility. The elections were like a festival. This is a win for democracy. This is a people’s victory. This mandate will allow us to continue working for people and to work harder,” the CM said before leaving for Guwahati to offer prayers at the Kamakhya temple.

“BJP bho-katta (the BJP has been decimated) by the people, CPM no-patta (the CPM has not been acknowledged), and the Congress is sandwiched between the BJP and the CPM,” she said.

The results had an element of inevitability and predictability, with Trinamool building on its organisation and taking advantage of opposition parties’ listlessness since its spectacular showing in the assembly polls last May. A much less predictable outcome was the sharp dip in BJP’s share of votes since then, which allowed the Left Front to displace it from the position of Kolkata’s party number two in terms of vote share.

The Left won 11% votes, marginally up from its share of 10.4% in May, to get two seats. BJP, which fancied its chances of winning Nabanna till the assembly poll results were announced on May 2, saw its Kolkata vote share dip from a May high of 20% to a December low of 9%. BJP will now have three representatives in the new KMC. Congress won 4.4% of the vote share, which translated into two seats.

A comparative analysis of the May and December vote share of Trinamool, BJP and the Left makes one thing clear: the votes gained by the saffron party in May, said to have gone to it from the LF kitty, now seem to have made their way to Trinamool. The Left Front and Congress finished second in 65 and 16 of KMC’s 144 wards, respectively, with BJP being the runner-up in 48 seats. BJP candidates lost their deposit in 116 wards.

The results mean that all 16 KMC boroughs will now Trinamool chairpersons. Independents won three seats but, by the end of Tuesday, all of them had expressed their desire to join Trinamool.

Raised marriage age so girls can study further : PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that his government has decided to raise the age of marriage for girls to 21 years because girls wanted to study further.

But everyone knows who are the people opposing the decision and trying to prevent girls from studying further, he said while addressing a rally of about 2.75 lakh women from all 75 districts of Uttar Pradesh. He said that before the BJP came to power in the state, there was “mafia raj” and “goonda raj” in the state. “Women bore the brunt of this and could not move about freely. Yogi Adityanath cracked down on such elements and today, women can move about freely and securely. UP now has safety and security and immense possibilities. It can no longer be pushed back,” he said.

The Prime Minister, who transferred money to Self Help groups, bank sakhis and beneficiaries of Kanya Sumangala Yojana and also laid the foundation stone of 202 take home ration plants, said that these schemes were designed to empower women.

“I was talking to bank sakhis, SHG groups and beneficiaries of Kanya Sumangala Yojana earlier and saw great confidence in them. What is there in front of everyone, does not need to be proved. The change in their lives is visible and the nation can see it,” he said.

The Prime Minister said that the bank sakhi programme has increased employment opportunities for women and brought banking to the doorstep. He informed that transactions worth Rs 75,000 crore were taking place through bank sakhis. Talking about the take home ration plants, he said that this would ensure nourishment to women and also benefit farmers since the food grains would be purchased from them for the plants.

The Prime Minister further said that self-help groups had made women ‘atmanirbhar’. He said that his government has taken several steps for benefitting women.

“We abolished the practice of triple talaq for Muslim sisters. We set up over 700 fast track courts for rape cases and we also removed the ban on women working in mining sector,” he added, saying Prayagraj was a symbol of women power 

India deploys S-400 in Punjab sector

In a major boost to the country’s air defence capabilities, the Indian Air Force is deploying the first squadron of the S-400 air defence missile system in the Punjab sector. “The first squadron is being deployed in the Punjab sector. The batteries of the first squadron would be capable of taking care of aerial threats from both Pakistan and China,” government sources said.

Parts of the Russian missile system had started reaching India earlier this month and the unit is expected to be operationalised in the next few weeks, they said. The S-400 air defence system was contracted for by India in a deal worth around Rs 35,000 crore and five squadrons would be provided to India for tacking air threats from up to 400 km. The first squadron deliveries are expected to be complete by the end of this year. 


South Asia gets its 1st hybrid school; campuses in 20 cities

Beginning January 2022, admissions will open for south Asia’s first hybrid school – Jain International Residential School Hybrid – with a network of at least 40 home campuses across 20 cities in India, including Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Varanasi.

Set up in collaboration with Hyderabad-based school management company, Crimson, this Cambridge-affiliated school will break away from the conventional format by bringing on board students and teachers from across India – irrespective of their geographic location and offer a combination of online and offline lessons, for the first time, to K-12 students.

Here’s how it’ll work: All subject classes will be streamed online for students through a learning operating system – TMRW – by teachers based out of different places.

For offline activities, such as sports, practicals, etc, students will be tied up with a school close to their place of residence. This will be called a home campus. For instance, if a student is based out of Hyderabad, they will learn maths and physics online, but will go to a school in the city to play football. The annual fee: Between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 2 lakh.

“There will also be a parent campus – Jain International Residential School, Bengalauru – but students have to travel there only to appear for their Class 10 and Class 12 board exams,” Francis Joseph, governing board member of the school, said.

Joseph said, “Through this model, we aim to bring together quality teachers from across physical boundaries, so that any learner located in any part of the country, however remote, can have access to good education.” The school, which will have four branches in Hyderabad, will be inaugurated on December 24, by Amitabh Kant, CEO of Niti Aayog.

“We are really pleased Jain International Residential School has joined Cambridge and is the first school in South Asia to offer Cambridge International programmes and qualifications in a hybrid format,” Mahesh Srivastava, regional director (south Asia) at Cambridge Assessment International Education, said.

Speaking for Crimson, Vishal Goel, who is also co-founder of Cerestra Ventures, a market leader in India’s K-12 segment, said hybrid model is the way forward.

Exports: Gujarat pips all states

Exports from Gujarat have touched a record high, crossing the Rs 5 lakh crore mark for the first time ever. Importantly, the feat has been achieved in the first half of 2021-22.

Experts believe that the annual exports from the state were likely to cross Rs nine lakh crore this fiscal.

Gujarat had been exporting goods worth about Rs 4.50 lakh crore annually. However, in the current financial year, the exports have touched Rs 5.16 lakh crore in the first six months (April to October), which is a 118% jump compared to the same period last year. A senior official of the commerce ministry said the main reason for the higher export figures of Gujarat was due to the GST regime.

“The major reason for the higher exports is the GST regime. Goods manufactured in Gujarat and exported from Mumbai were earlier counted as export of Maharashtra. But now, after the successful implementation of GST, the state of origin is now correctly recorded,” he said.

According to the figures released by the Director General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics, working under the commerce ministry, Gujarat pipped Maharashtra in 2020-21 itself.

The business community however says that it is not only the recording of the correct state of origin, but exports itself has increased.

Home Sales in Mumbai Scale 10-Year Peak

Mumbai, the country’s biggest property market, has sustained its growth momentum as homebuyers continued to acquire properties on the back of record low interest rates and offers from realty developers. The market has scaled a new 10-year peak as it surpassed the mark of 100,000 registrations in a calendar year.

Interestingly, the pace of property registrations has continued even without the extension of lower stamp duty benefits.

The property market of the country's financial capital has recorded over 5,553 registrations of deals in just three weeks of December after witnessing over 7,582 registrations in the festive month of November, showed data from the Inspector General of Registration, Maharashtra.

The state exchequer fetched over ₹549 crore revenue from stamp duty in November and ₹421 crore in December on these property transactions. The registration activity in both September and October had also scaled a new monthly peak prior to this and the performance in so far indicates the continuance in sentiment buoyancy.

Property registrations during January-November period are 122% higher from a year ago, while the government has earned a revenue of ₹5,351 crore between January and November 2021, showed data from Knight Frank India.

“The consumer sentiment in the Mumbai housing market remains strong,” said Shishir Baijal, chairman & managing director, Knight Frank India.

“The growth rate has moderated when compared to the year-ago period when the market was buoyant on account of the lowest applicable stamp duty rate window. The demand enablers in the form of low house prices, low home loan interest rate and new project launches continue to entice homebuyers.”

In November 2020, when the lower stamp duty benefit was being offered by the state government, the market had witnessed registrations of over 9,300 deals. However, the stamp duty collection stood at ₹288 crore.

During the pre-pandemic period of November and December 2019, Mumbai’s property registration numbers were 6,433 and 5,574 transactions, respectively.

Pradeep Rawat is India’s next envoy to China

Pradeep Rawat, India’s envoy to the Netherlands, will take over as the ambassador to China at a time when bilateral relations between the two countries have hit rock bottom. He will replace Vikram Misri, who is scheduled to take over as deputy NSA very soon.

Rawat served in the ministry of external affairs headquarters as joint secretary in charge of east Asia, which includes China, before assuming charge as ambassador to Indonesia.

He will now take the new charge at a very tough time — Chinese troops remain aggressively positioned in eastern Ladakh and other points on the Line of Actual Control, there is very little bilateral interaction, and India is attempting to decouple from Chinese-controlled supply chains.

Politically too, there has been almost no interaction between the two nations, and that could prove a problem going forward. In addition, China’s activities on its periphery and vis-à-vis India are both expansionist and aggressive.

Vikram Misri will be adding much-needed China expertise to the National Security Council, where he will be on deputation.

LS passes poll reforms bill

A bill on major electoral reforms, including voluntary linkage of Aadhaar to election identities and providing multiple dates for voter registration, was passed by the Lok Sabha amid strong protests and demands by the opposition to refer the legislation to a standing committee.

The bill, opposition MPs said, was suddenly and hastily included in the supplementary list of business on Monday afternoon and was passed by a voice vote. The MPs alleged that they were not given time to move any amendments even as they said the legislation was a violation of the Aadhaar Act.

Law minister Kiren Rijiju, however, said the bill was an important electoral reform and already had the backing of a parliamentary standing committee with all-party representation, which had asked the government to expedite linking of Aadhaar with electoral rolls as it would lead to “purifying” the rolls of fraud and duplication. The opposition parties have said the bill will be strongly opposed in the Rajya Sabha, which may take it up on Tuesday.

On Monday morning, all the opposition parties had unanimously opposed the introduction of the bill and said it must be referred to a parliamentary standing committee. Congress MP Manish Tewari said the Aadhaar Act does not allow for linking of the card to voters list and is only intended to be used for the disbursal of financial benefits and such matters. He added that it is beyond the legislative competence of the House to take up the bill. The government has held that the Aadhaar Act’s aims that it can be used for welfare and good governance enable such an electoral reform.

TMC alleged that the bill was being brought to tamper with the voter list and violate voter rights. The BSP, RSP and other opposition parties strongly opposed the bill linking Aadhaar with voters’ list too.

Adani to build 80% of 594-km UP expressway

The Adani Group has bagged the contract to build India’s longest expressway project — the Rs 17,000-crore and 594-kmlong Meerut-Prayagraj Expressway — in UP.

The group will build 464 km from Budaun to Prayagraj that comprises 80% of this proposed expressway in three groups — 151.7 km from Budaun to Hardoi, 155.7 km from Hardoi to Unnao and 157 km from Unnao to Prayagraj. Adani Enterprises Ltd will construct three groups of access controlled 6-lane expressway, expandable to 8 lanes.

AEL has received the Letter of Award from UP Expressways Industrial Development Authority to implement these three major stretches in PPP mode on design, build, finance, operate and transfer basis with a concession period of 30 years. The Ganga Expressway connecting Meerut with Prayagraj will be India’s longest expressway to be implemented on DBFOT basis. “India is building at a record pace the road infrastructssure it needs for its development and we are delighted to play a role in building a network all across the nation.

Tata’s Air India deal gets CCI nod

Paving the way for Tatas taking over Air India, the Competition Commission of India has approved acquisition of shareholding in AI, AI Express and AISATS Airport Services by Talace. Talace is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Sons.

The proposed combination envisages acquisition of 100% equity share capital of Air India and Air India Express, and 50% equity share capital of AI-SATS Airport Services by Talace.

The countdown for Tata Group re-acquiring AI, 68 years after the Maharaja was nationalised, has begun. They have to take control and start running AI, AI Express and AI-SATS latest by January 23, — the “long stop date” according to the share purchase agreement signed with the government. The Tatas have so far not spelt out their plans for Air India.


CJI launches India’s first international arbitration centre in Hyderabad

India’s first International Arbitration and Mediation Centre, inaugurated jointly by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana and Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao on Saturday in Hyderabad, hit the jackpot on day one itself.

KCR told the gathering that the Telangana government would incorporate a clause in all big project tenders and contracts stating that all disputes, if they arise during the course of implementation, would have to be adjudicated at the IAMC. The ongoing property dispute between former IPL chairman Lalit Modi and his mother, Bina Modi, has already been referred to IAMC.

Justice Ramana said, “Arbitration and mediation have a long history in India. Recently, they have acquired prominence across the world as methods of dispute resolution. ADR (alternative dispute resolution) methods are beneficial due to various reasons — low cost, speed, more control over timelines and process, autonomy of parties, comfortable environment, and non-adversarial nature”.

Weapon systems for India have to made here: Rajnath

India has very clearly conveyed to friendly nations like the US, Russia and France that weapon systems and platforms required by the Indian armed forces will have to be manufactured here, defence minister Rajnath Singh said.

Voicing the government’s aim to make India a global defence production hub and self-reliant in its military requirements, Singh said it was agreed during talks with French defence minister Florence Parly on Friday that a major French company will produce “an engine” in India by joining hands with an Indian company under the strategic partnership model.

Though the minister did not elaborate, the engine is likely to be for military helicopters to be produced by defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd in the years ahead. Addressing the annual general meeting of Ficci, Singh said the worth of India’s defence and aerospace manufacturing market would increase to Rs 1 lakh crore by next year from the present Rs 85,000 crore. “When I talk about ‘India Beyond 75’, I see this figure to be Rs 5 lakh crore by 2047,” he said.

Noting that India’s defence exports have grown by 325% in the last five years, he said the country will not only achieve its export target of Rs 35,000 crore by 2024-25 but will also become a net exporter of defence equipment.

The minister also said the figure of the 209 items placed under an arms embargo under the two ‘positive indigenization’ lists so far will cross the 1,000-mark in this decade.

India cannot depend on other countries for defence technologies due to its stature, its geographical location and the myriad security challenges it faces. “For the security of India and its people, it is necessary that we develop our defence capacity and capability so that even the most powerful country in the world has to think a thousand times before planning anything that endangers our interests,” Singh said.

“We have told every friendly country that we want to produce the military platforms, weapons and ammunition in India itself keeping in mind the security of the country...,” the Union defence minister added.

PM Modi coins ‘Upyogi’ to laud Adityanath

In a strong endorsement of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Prime Minister Modi on Saturday gave a new term “UP+ Yogi=Upyogi (useful)” to the election lexicon. “UP plus Yogi bahut hai upyogi (Uttar Pradesh plus Yogi have great utility),” he said, indicating that Adityanath would be the CM face of the party for the upcoming assembly elections.

Modi made the comments after launching the Rs 36,230 cr, 594-km long six-lane Ganga e-way project in Shahjahanpur, pegged to be the longest in the country at 594 km. The expressway will connect the eastern and western regions of UP from Meerut to Prayagraj. The project is set to be completed in 2024.

“This expressway will bring new industries and create employment opportunities for thousands of youths...,” the PM said in his 40-minute speech to a crowd, which BJP leaders said was over one lakh-strong.

Modi also took a dig at the opposition, saying: “You have seen how the money of the government was used by other parties. Today, it is being used by the government for development work. Earlier, these projects only started on paper so politicians filled their coffers. Today, these projects are ensuring that your money is saved and is in your pocket...There are some political parties that have problems with the country's heritage and development...”

The PM also lauded the Yogi government for the law-and-order situation in west UP. He also said: “Before the BJP took charge, there was a saying that one should return home before sunset because people who flashed kattas (countrymade pistols) ruled the roads...”

He said the Yogi government had "bulldozed" the mafia in the state. Modi tried to connect with the crowd by starting his speech in the local dialect and said that he feels blessed after touching the soil of revolutionaries such as Ram Prasad Bismil, Thakur Roshan Singh, and Ashfaq Ullah Khan, the heroes of the Kakori incident.


Direct tax mop-up surges 40% in FY22 till mid-December

Direct tax collections have soared over 40% to close to Rs 9.5 lakh crore (on a net basis) up to mid-December, raising expectations that the government may close the year with a higher than budgeted mop-up. Between April and December 16, on a gross basis, collections have increased by around 48% to Rs 10.3 lakh crore.

Receipts on the direct tax front have been so robust that they are already 60% higher than the level of the entire 2020-21, when the Covid-19 outbreak had forced businesses to shut down due to the country-wide lockdown and resulted in widespread job losses and salary cuts.

A recovery across several sectors and people coming back to the job market have helped perk up the government’s revenue collections, both on the direct as well as indirect taxes front.

The latest numbers come after the government received the third installment of advance tax. In a statement, the finance ministry said that the cumulative advance tax collections for the first, second and third quarters of the current financial year were estimated at almost Rs 4.6 lakh crore (up to December 16), against Rs 3 lakh crore a year ago, showing a growth of 53.5%. With more data from banks expected in the coming days, the ministry expects the number to improve further.

Within net collections, corporation tax of over Rs 5.1 lakh crore accounting for 54% share, while the remaining Rs 4.3 lakh crore was on account of personal income tax, including Security Transaction Tax. Refunds amounting to Rs 1.35 lakh crore have been issued so far in the current fiscal.

CCI suspends nod for Amazon deal with Future

The Competition Commission of India suspended its approval of Amazon’s 2019 deal with Future Coupons, on the sole basis of which the US e-tailer was fighting several legal battles to block Future Group’s proposed sale of assets to Reliance Retail for Rs 25,000 crore.

The development, which has far-reaching implications for the Jeff Bezos-led etailer in the domestic market and the Indian retail industry, could prove to be a stepping stone for the Reliance-Future deal to go through, subject to regulatory and legal approvals. The antitrust watchdog said it wants to examine the Amazon-FCPL deal afresh. In addition, it slapped a Rs 200-crore penalty on Amazon for making “false and incorrect statements” and suppressing the “actual purpose” of the deal, while seeking approval.

Amazon has 60 days to re-appeal for approval with “true, correct and complete” information and, till then, its order for approval for the 2019 deal “shall remain in abeyance”, said CCI. This leaves Amazon with a few options, sources said, that include appealing to a higher court or approaching the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal.

In 2019, Amazon had acquired 49% in FCPL, an unlisted Future Group entity, for Rs 1,500 crore. Since FCPL held around 10% in FRL, the e-tailer claimed it gave it rights over the latter. Subsequently, when the Future-Reliance deal was announced, Amazon dragged FRL to a Singapore arbitration court for alleged violation of contracts.

In FY22, India will Grow the Fastest in the World: Amit Shah

Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that India is likely to become the fastest-growing economy in the world in the current financial year. "We are reaching the pre-COVID levels. July to September GDP number has been at 8.4 per cent and I think in the year 2021-22, India is likely to become the fastest-growing economy in the world. I will not be surprised if we touch double-digit growth," Shah said while addressing FICCI's Annual Convention & 94th Annual General Meeting.

Shah said out of the 22 parameters of the economy, India has exceeded in 19 parameters, and this shows that the country has come out strong from the crisis. "Both manufacturing and service sector index has reached the pre-COVID levels. With the announcements of various packages and relief, our inflation is within the targeted range of 4-6% as set by the government," he added.

Highlighting the potential of the MSME sector, Shah said that till the time "we encourage and strengthen this sector we cannot address the issue of unemployment in the county". He also emphasised on the need of spending more in the R & D sector. The Home Minister pointed out that FICCI's Annual General Meeting was happening at an important juncture as the world is slowly coming out of COVID and on the other hand, India is celebrating Azadi ka Amrit Mahostav. The time has come for FICCI to increase its role in India's growth, he noted.

Shah further said that some decisions of the Narendra Modi-led central government may not be correct but no question can be raised on the intent of the government.

He further emphasised on the need for FICCI to identify, collaborate and prepare a roadmap of potential sectors for next 25 years when India will celebrate its 100 years of Independence. The vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat can be achieved when organisations like FICCI come forward and work with the government on various policies, he added. Shah further said that some decisions of the Narendra Modi-led central government may not be correct but no question can be raised on the intent of the government. 

Superjumbo aircraft to return after 20 months

In yet another indicator of return to normalcy, Singapore Airlines on Friday announced that it will operate its Mumbai flights with A380 superjumbo aircraft from next month. Around the same time, Swiss too will start non-stop flights between Mumbai and Zurich. International outbound travel from India to Singapore is expected to pick up in the coming weeks. Early this month, India took Singapore off the list of ‘at-risk’ countries. With this, passengers arriving from Singapore don’t have to undergo on-arrival Covid test or week-long home quarantine. But to fly into Singapore on VTL flights, passengers have to present digital proof of double vaccination.

The 471-seater superjumbo will return to India after a 20-month hiatus. “Starting January 10, the A380 will replace the Airbus A350-900 on the Singapore Airlines’ vaccinated travel lane (VTL) flights between Mumbai and Singapore. From February 14, SIA will operate the A380 in place of the Boeing 787-10 on its VTL services between Delhi and Singapore,” said Singapore Airlines on Friday. Said an airport official: “Domestic air travel has almost bounced back to pre-Covid levels, we hope international travel catches up in the first half of next year.”

Bhutan’s highest civilian award for PM Modi

Reaffirming close ties between Bhutan and India, the Himalayan kingdom on Friday conferred its highest civilian decoration, 'Order of the Druk Gyalpo' (Ngadag Pel Gi Khorlo), on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on its 114th National Day even as India-China border tensions remain unresolved.

The conferment of the award comes at a time when Bhutan is struggling to deal with growing Chinese pressure on their border, as well as trying to work out a border deal with Beijing, which some reports had suggested did not suit India. The award is seen as a political gesture to India, underlining the importance of the relationship, that has endured the test of time.

Tweeting the news, Bhutan PM Lotay Tshering said he was overjoyed to hear “His Majesty pronounce Your Excellency Modiji’s (Narendra Modi) name for the highest civilian decoration, Order of the Druk Gyalpo”. Responding to the announcement, Modi said, “Thank you, Lyonchhen @PMBhutan! I am deeply touched by this warm gesture, and express my grateful thanks to His Majesty the King of Bhutan”.

Tshering tweeted: “HM (His Majesty) highlighted all the unconditional friendship and support Modiji extended over the years and particularly during pandemic.”

RBI: Partial ban on crypto won’t work

The Reserve Bank of India has said in a presentation to its central board that a ban on cryptocurrencies needs to be total and partial restrictions will not work.

In the presentation, senior officials highlighted the issue of trackability of transactions, valuation of cryptos, the extreme price volatility, legal issues and identifying the various actors in the crypto transaction chain as areas of concern. Among the board members Revathy Iyer (former deputy comptroller & auditor general) expressed the need to proceed with caution. However, another board member Sachin Chaturvedi (director-general at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries) cautioned against policymakers taking extreme steps and risk being cut off globally. He highlighted instances in the past when the government had to backtrack.

Debasish Panda, secretary at the department of financial services, who also participated in the meeting, did not comment on the crypto issue. The 592nd meeting of the central board also discussed the status of the central bank’s digital currency. Additionally, the board took up the half-yearly income statement of the RBI for the six months ended September 30, 2021.

The board’s discussion on cryptocurrencies comes at a time when the government has listed Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021 for the Winter Session of Parliament. The Centre has been tight-lipped about the legislation. The wording on the bill (on crypto). When the central bank says it has much deeper concerns from the point of macroeconomic and financial stability, there are far deeper issues involved which form part of this,” RBI governor Shaktikanta Das had said in October 2021 while speaking at an event. He said that there was a need for discussion on these concerns.

“The board also discus-— stating that it seeks to create a facilitative framework for a central bank digital currency and allow crypto for certain exceptions to promote the underlying technology — has given rise to speculation that cryptos may be legalised as an asset.

The RBI has been steadfast in its opposition to giving recognition to alternate currencies. While the central bank has been forced to retract its 2018 ban on cryptocurrencies following a Supreme Court order, it has not changed its mind. “There is a need for much deeper discussions sed various areas of operations of the Reserve Bank, including the functioning of the local boards, activities of select central office departments and the draft ‘Report on Trend and Progress of Banking in India, 2020-21’,” the RBI said in a statement. Central bankers present in the board meeting included deputy governors Mahesh Kumar Jain, Michael Debabrata Patra, M Rajeshwar Rao, and T Rabi Sankar. Other directors of the central board Satish K Marathe and S Gurumurthy also attended the meeting.

BJP & Captain’s party form Punjab alliance

BJP incharge of Punjab affairs, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said his party will contest the Punjab assembly elections with a seat adjustment with former chief minister Amarinder Singh’s party Punjab Lok Congress. Capt Amarinder had met with Shekhawat in Delhi earlier in the day.

Shekhawat said it was final that the two parties will contest the assembly elections together. “I had met Captain Saab in Chandigarh earlier. We will inform you about other issues like seat-sharing at an appropriate time,” he said.

Later in the day, Amarinder posted on social media: “Today met with Central minister and BJP Punjab In-charge Shri Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in New Delhi to determine the future strategy before Punjab Vidhan Sabha elections. We will make seat adjustment with BJP for 2022 Punjab Vidhan Sabha elections.”


Hyderabad: 13,000 LED lights bring glow to ORR

For the safety of commuters, to reduce road accidents and also give aesthetic touch to the Outer Ring Road, the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority has completed LED lighting on the entire 158-km stretch.

While in the first phase, LED lighting was done between Gachibowli and Shamshabad covering a distance of 22 km three years ago, LED lighting for the balance 136 km was completed now.

Municipal administration minister KT Rama Rao inaugurated LED lighting on the ORR on Thursday.

The LED lighting covers main carriageway, inter changes, service roads and one km either side of the junctions and underpasses. It cost Rs 100 crore which includes operation and maintenance of the lights for seven years.

The works got commenced in October 2020. A total of 13,392 LED lights have been installed on the entire Outer Ring Road .

Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority officials said the special features of the illumination of ORR was provided with GSM-based automation system consisting of web-based management for lighting operation remotely from laptop or mobile, programming and reporting system, remote controlling light intensity for dimming and monitoring the functioning of the streetlights online, dimming option of lights up to 10% to 100% in five stages or linear dimming for saving the power consumption during low traffic time.

It has highly reliable system providing alert messages for power theft, short circuit, energy leakages, over or under voltages and power failures.

After the inauguration, KTR tweeted: “Delighted to illuminate the entire stretch of Outer Ring Road , all intersections and important sections of service roads totaling 190 kms with 6,340 poles and 13,009 LED fixtures with a cost of Rs 100 crore.”

Advance Tax Mop-up Grows 90% in Q3

Advance tax collections in the third quarter of the fiscal year almost doubled from the year-earlier period, underscoring hopes of a sustained economic recovery amid the threat from the Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The advance tax mop-up in the December quarter was ₹94,107 crore, up 89.9% from ₹49,536 crore in the same period last year. Corporate advance tax accounted for ₹54,445 crore, up 75% from ₹31,107 crore. Personal income tax rose 115% to ₹39,662 crore.

Cumulative advance tax collections in the April-December period of the fiscal year stood at ₹3.45 lakh crore on December 16, up 65.5% from ₹2.08 lakh crore in the year earlier. Corporation tax accounted for ₹2.50 lakh crore, up 55% from ₹1.60 lakh crore. Personal income tax rose 98% to ₹97,719 crore from ₹47,865 crore.

Personal income tax collections have been showing an uptick since the beginning of the fiscal, the person said. This is mainly due to a rise in the income of mid-level to senior management executives in certain sectors such as information technology and pharmaceuticals. Also, promoters of unicorns and other startups have done well during the year.

Advance tax is paid as and when money is earned in four instalments rather than at the end of the fiscal year. It is considered an indicator of economic sentiment. The first instalment, or 15% of advance tax, is to be paid by June 15, the second by September 15 (30%), the third by December 15 (30%), and the rest by March 15.

Direct tax collection net of refunds grew 67.2% up to December 16 to ₹8.29 lakh crore from ₹4.95 lakh crore in the same period last year. Total refunds issued, however, fell 7.5% to ₹1.35 lakh crore from ₹1.46 lakh crore a year ago.

Gross collections at ₹9.64 lakh crore were 50% higher than last year. In FY21, gross collections during the period amounted to ₹6.41 lakh crore. The target for the current fiscal year is ₹11.08 lakh crore.

The Central Board of Direct Taxes said that nearly 35.9 million income-tax returns have been filed on the new e-filing portal. The number of ITRs filed per day has crossed 600,000 and is increasing as the extended due date of December 31 approaches, it said.

Direct taxes may exceed budgetary estimates for the fiscal as companies have so far been cautious about expectations over Covid concerns.

Mumbai: BMC to free pavements of all hurdles

One can soon expect better footpaths, street furniture and bus-stops in the suburbs. After a pilot project in south Mumbai, the BMC has initiated work on improving the walkability quotient in the suburbs. The work will significantly benefit pedestrians and the differently-abled as it aims at universal accessibility.

Currently, at Dadar (E), the stretch between Ruia College and St Joseph's High School (Wadala) is being improved through interventions like minimalistic bus shelters, standardized street furniture, universal accessibility with atgrade crossings, ramps and median refuge. “Walking is a big part of our community," said Parsi Colony resident Kayomi Engineer. “Ours is a predominantly residential area with a large population of elders. With better pavements and protected pedestrian crossings, senior citizens will be able to get around easily. In developed countries, parents are seen moving their child's stroller around comfortably on streets, but in Mumbai, it's a nightmare as footpaths are uneven or broken. Post-pandemic, it will be important for people to use public spaces in the right way," she added. Corporator Amey Ghole said the project will enhance walkability in the Wadala-Parsi Colony-Matunga belt.

Data with the traffic police shows that 42% of all road crash deaths last year were of pedestrians. “When more than 50% of all journeys in the city are done on foot, pedestrians deserve better. For instance, pedestrian crossings should be marked after every 400-500 metre stretch,” said AV Shenoy of Mumbai Mobility Forum.

Additional municipal commissioner P Velrasu said officers have been directed to take up work at a 100 metre stretch in each area so that pedestrian movement is not affected. “Once the work is completed in totality, the next portion along the same stretch would be dug up. We are focusing on improving the pedestrian experience by trying to make use of only those things that would be low on maintenance and long-lasting," he said.

Conservation architect Pankaj Joshi, who is a consultant for the project, said a concreting technique called castin-situ concrete is being used on the footpaths as it is longlasting. "We are also placing data ducts below these stretches so that telecom companies wanting to excavate for laying of fiber optic cables do not tamper with the entire footpath. Joshi said precast street furniture would also be used as a part of the project so that there are no chances of them being vandalized.

Aadhaar linking to help voters: UIDAI ex-chief

The option of linking Voters’ ID with Aadhaar is a path-breaking reform that will enhance transparency as well as convenience in the election process, making change of address and verification simpler and faster.

Enabling easier change of address will allow people to register in a new location and participate in elections while also weeding out multiple registrations, said former UIDAI chief and former finance secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey.

“Even though the linking is voluntary, I am sure that given the sheer convenience, more and more voters will opt for linkage of Aadhaar with their voter Icards and take advantage of the facility. Just like people today voluntarily offer their Aadhaar for opening bank accounts, mobile phone connection and vaccination,” Pandey said.

The linking option will be a global first as no other country has such a data base of biometric identities. There are provisions in the Aadhaar Act and the EC system to maintain the integrity, security and privacy of the data.

Since the verification is controlled by the Aadhaar system, the security will be higher.

PM leads nation in marking 50th anniv of 1971 war victory

India on Thursday celebrated the 50th anniversary of its victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war that led to redrawing of the political map of South Asia and ended the horrific violence unleashed by the Pakistani army on millions of Bangladeshi people.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the nation in paying tributes to the valour and sacrifices of Bangladeshi freedom fighters and Indian armed forces on the 50th anniversary of the occasion ‘Vijay Diwas’.

President Ram Nath Kovind attended the Victory Day Parade in Dhaka as the “Guest of Honour”, in reflection of India’s deep connect with the people of Bangladesh and reaffirming New Delhi’s strong ties with that country. A 122-member strong tri-services contingent from India also took part in the grand parade watched by Bangladesh President M Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Addressing the Victory Day celebrations in Dhaka, President Kovind said that the 1971 struggle for freedom has a special place in the hearts of every Indian. Modi tweeted, “On the 50th Vijay Diwas, I recall the valour and sacrifice by the Muktijoddhas, Biranganas and bravehearts of the Indian Forces. Together, we fought and defeated oppressive forces. Rashtrapati Ji’s presence in Dhaka is of special significance to every Indian.”

Accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of leaving out Indira Gandhi from the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war celebrations, Congress said the BJP leader is “so weak and insecure” that he cannot even acknowledge her leadership in the crucial war that split up Pakistan into two countries. AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said, “Our first and only woman Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi is being left out of the misogynist BJP government’s Vijay Diwas celebrations.” Rahul Gandhi wrote on Facebook, “Indira Gandhi lives in the hearts of Indians, she sacrificed her life for the country. how will you erase her name?”

Delhi all set to deregister 10-yr-old diesel vehicles from January 1

In a crackdown on old polluting vehicles, the Delhi government will deregister all diesel vehicles which have completed or will be completing 10 years on January 1, 2022. The move is in compliance with a National Green Tribunal order.

In an order issued earlier this week, the transport department said a no-objection certificate (NOC) will be issued to the owners of these vehicles so that these can be re-registered at other places. However, the department will not issue an NOC for vehicles that have completed 15 years or more on the date of applying for an NOC.

On October 29, 2018, the Supreme Court had prohibited the plying of 15-year-old petrol and 10-year-old diesel vehicles in the national capital. A 2014 order of the NGT had banned even parking of vehicles that are older than 15 years at any public place.

“We have been taking action against old diesel vehicles, and till date, around 1 lakh such vehicles have been deregistered. Now all such vehicles will be stringently de-registered from January 1, 2022,” said a Delhi government official. “Around 2 lakh diesel vehicles that are at least 10 years old will be de-registered from January 1.”

He said the transport department has been issuing public notices to draw the attention of owners to the legal position of these vehicles.